3 Exercises for Strong and Healthy Hamstrings
If you’ve ever sprinted for the bus and got there in time, if you were better at long jump than the others, or if you could do whatever you wanted with the ball while playing soccer – you can thank your hamstrings for that. These muscles are on the back of your thighs and run from your sit bones to your lower legs. Hamstrings are key when it comes to explosive movement and stability. When you exercise, strong rear thighs can improve your performance and even prevent injuries.
A study involving Swedish soccer players, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, investigated the importance of hamstrings. 30 male soccer players were divided into a training and a control group for the study. In addition to normal soccer training, the training group also completed specific hamstring work over a 10-week period, while the control group continued to train as usual. Results showed that, as well as a significant improvement in running speed and more muscle strength in the rear of the thigh, there was also a significant decrease in hamstring injuries in the training group. In a 10-month observation period, 3 out of 15 players in the training group suffered an injury, while 10 out of 15 players in the control group injured their hamstring area.
Healthy hamstrings are flexible as well as strong. Most of us spend far too long sitting in our daily lives. According to a study published in the Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine, frequent sitting at a desk can weaken the hamstrings, because they contract, become permanently shorter, and are seldom active. This makes it all the more important to compensate with appropriate counter-movements in the form of stretching exercises.
How Can You Strengthen and Stretch Your Hamstrings at the Same Time?
If paying that much attention to your hamstrings sounds like way too much effort for you, then luckily you can stretch and strengthen them in one go. The key is eccentric training.
As you probably figured out, this is a form of strength training. When you perform an exercise like bicep curls, your biceps contract as you flex (concentric phase) and extend again as you stretch (eccentric phase). In other words, when you extend your arm again, your biceps are working eccentrically and are being stretched under load. To train eccentrically, deliberately emphasize the lowering phase by slowing down the downward movement of your arm.
Studies show that eccentric training can improve both your flexibility (range of motion in joints and muscle length) and strength. Lowering the working weight in a slow and controlled manner also increases time under tension (the time the muscle is loaded), which has a positive effect on muscle development.
What Is the Difference Between Eccentric Training and Static Stretching?
It’s obvious that strength training will strengthen your hamstrings. But why can eccentric training be better than traditional stretching exercises? If you want to improve your flexibility, you usually get into a position where the muscle is stretched lengthwise and hold it. This is static stretching as you know it. But how often in everyday life do we hold a position like this? Most of the time, muscles are stretched lengthwise during activity, when we are moving around. And that’s where eccentric training comes in. Studies show that eccentric training can reduce the risk of sports injuries by 65%, while static stretching is said to have no effect on preventing injury, according to a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
How Can You Integrate Eccentric Hamstring Exercises Into Your Training?
Eccentric training is an intense way of loading your body that should not be underestimated, so start slowly and mentally prepare yourself for sore muscles. One eccentric exercise per training session is enough. If you’re new to strength training, you should concentrate on the basics for the time being.
Here are our favorite exercises that your hamstrings will both love and hate:
Sliding Leg Curls (10 reps, 3 sets)
Lie on your back and place your feet on the floor, about hip-width apart, with your toes pointing toward the ceiling. You can place special slide pads under your feet or do the exercise with socks on a slippery floor. Raise your hips toward the ceiling so that your lower back, butt, and thighs form a straight line. Slowly slide your heels forward and straighten your legs without dropping your pelvis. To return to the starting position, bend your legs and pull them back towards your butt. That’s one repetition.
Muscles: Hamstrings, lower back, glutes.
Remember: To make the exercise more intense, do it with one leg at a time.
Romanian Deadlifts (10 reps, 3 sets)
Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Relax your arms in front of your thighs, palms facing you and wrists straight. Holding the dumbbells close to your body, slowly push your hips backwards and hinge forward from your hip with your back straight. Lower the dumbbells to just below your kneecaps. The video above shows the classic version. To emphasize the eccentric phase, take about 5 seconds to lower the weight, then reverse the movement by extending your hips and knees and straightening your upper body. That’s one repetition.
Muscles: glutes, hamstrings, back extensors.
Remember: Lower slowly and with control, then straighten up quickly.
Nordic Ham Curls (5 reps, 3 sets)
Come to a kneeling position on a soft surface, legs less than shoulder-width apart, torso straight, hips slightly tilted forward, toes on the floor. Hook your feet under a barbell loaded with weights and fixed with additional weight plates front and back, to keep it stable and prevent it from moving away. Slowly extend through your knees and lean forward until your chest touches the floor. Push yourself off the floor with your hands to return to the upright starting position. That’s one repetition.
Remember: Only move from your knee joints, keeping the angle of your hips constant.
More interesting articles from foodspring:
- These 5 Eccentric Exercises Will Take Your Training to a New Level.
- 5 Mobility Exercises to Get You Ready for Lower Body Workouts
- Do You Need Weightlifting Shoes?
Sources for this article
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